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About nine years ago, I joined facebook. It was just because I had run into an old high school friend, and when I asked her about pictures of her family, she said “I put everything on facebook”. I was a little annoyed, but I thought what the heck, I’ll make a free account so I can see her family… and after looking at her pictures, I started adding those of my own, and connecting with more people. Some of those people I knew in my “real life” at the time, others were from high school years. Over time, I started being “friended” by people who were acquaintances of acquaintances.

As my list of “friends” grew, so did the drama on my facebook feed. Every national event led to a polarized discussion of who/what was at fault and what should be done about it. Every psychological hurt, social slight, and physical ailment of every “friend” was aired and turned into lengthy discussions of who/what was at fault and what should be done about it.

While I usually hear people gripe about facebook being too much about bragging and putting a false front of perfect family out there for everyone to see, the problem for me was more that facebook had become an ocean of outrage populated by rafts of whiners.

I spent so much of my time being outraged myself – at memes that were meant to be cute and witty but really pitted men and women against each other in the same old tired ways I’ve always been sick of, at “news” stories from politically extreme web sites on both ends of the spectrum, at people I had never met who called me stupid or sexist or a slut or a prude.

I spent too much time at this. Time that I could have spent reading, walking my dogs, talking with my sons, doing the dishes, stretching… So I quit. Gave 24 hours notice so people could ask for my email address and pulled the plug. And once I did that, I realized that it was more than just the outrage and waste of time – there was something else that had happened to me during my near decade on facebook.

I had fallen into the trap of thinking of my life as performance art for the amusement of others.

During the first 24 hours after quitting facebook, I had three different times where something happened in my life and my VERY FIRST thought was “ooh, I should post this on facebook” before realizing that I wasn’t going to do that…  and then I was left sort of hanging.  Like, wait a minute – if I’m not going to make a post, and thus no one is going to see it, and no one is going to “like” it or comment on it…  well, what’s going to happen with it?  This thing that happened – it’s just there in my life, and no one noticed but me, and…  well…  um…

What a weird way to think about one’s life.  I can think back to my younger years.  Things happened every day, every hour, every minute…  and there they just sort of stayed.  I remembered them.  I may have laughed out loud, or swore to myself, or had a brief moment of panic.  But then I just went on with my day.  I may have told the story to someone over dinner that night, or recounted it in my next phone call to my mother, or maybe it would come up in conversation at a party the next weekend.  Or maybe, sometimes, it would just basically go away, as moments do.  To be replaced by other moments.  Not documented, paraded in front of everyone, graded and assessed by friends and by friends of friends and by complete strangers.

Today things happened.  I had thoughts.  And you know what?  I’m not going to tell you what they all were!  I’m keeping a lot of them to myself.  Some of them I will tell my husband.  Most of them were just thoughts for my own entertainment while I was working.  I’m actually not interested in anyone else’s thoughts about those thoughts.  Wow.

And my children did some sweet things over the last 48 hours.  They said some funny stuff.  And they were occasionally jerks.  And we had some problems.  And we got through those problems, and they did sweet things again.  And I managed to deal with it all and be present with what was happening and today I managed to *not* think “hey, that would be a good facebook post!”

So it’s only been two days.  In a way it seems a little lonely, losing that connection to everyone.  In another way, it’s very freeing.  And somehow I feel sort of mysterious, like I’m flying under the radar, doing and thinking secret stuff in my own little world that hardly anyone sees.

Of course, here I am on my blog, which is publicly available to the entire world.  Feels different, though.  For one thing, I know that hardly anyone reads this – it’s more for myself to get my thoughts straight.  It’s not social media – there aren’t “like” buttons and I’m not expecting comments and sharing.  In the past, I’ve put some pretty controversial thoughts up here and it’s never caused any drama.  It’s really just one step up from writing stuff on a piece of paper and sticking it between my mattresses (a method I have used in the past).

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This year my son is in third grade, and organized Physical Education class is a daily thing for his class.  I was surprised when he came home the second week of school and demonstrated “girl push ups”.  These kids are in third grade,  Puberty and the associated hormone-related bodily changes are far, far away.  I really do not think there is a significant difference in the strength of 8-year-old boys and girls.  I don’t even think “boy push ups” and “girl push ups” should be a thing in middle school or high school, for that matter.  I think everyone should try to do as many push ups (just push ups) as they can…  if someone can not do ANY push ups, then they should of course be given the option of doing “modified push ups” or “half push ups” until they get strong enough to do at least one regular push up.  I bet you anything there are some boys in third grade who can not do a push up, and there are some girls who can do a lot of them.  To name them based on the sexes is just stupid.  Push ups are not done with your penis, you know.

Starting in second grade, my son would come home and tell stories about girls hitting boys and laughingly saying “You can’t hit me back, because I’m a GIRL!”  On two separate occasions, it was a group of girls going around the playground at recess, hitting boys and laughing – my son said one boy cried.  These stories made me incredibly furious.  When my boy was finally able to give me a specific girl’s name, someone in his classroom who would hit him when the teacher was busy on the other side of the room and say “You can’t hit me back, because I’m a girl” – I sent an email to my son’s teacher and to the principal of the elementary school.  This resulted in my son and the girl being called out of class and talked to by the principal, and things between the two of them seem to have improved – they are in the same class this year, too, and so far there have been no problems.  Not between those two individuals, but there is still a culture of “girls can hit boys, but boys can’t hit girls”.

I find myself looking around these days and thinking “Has sexism gotten better since I was a girl?  Has it actually gotten WORSE?”  When I found out that my baby was male, I was kind of relieved, because I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with getting pissed off at people for treating my daughter like a fragile flower, speaking to her in baby talk when she was no longer a baby, and telling her that she couldn’t do things because she’s a girl.  Turns out that as a mother of boys, I am just as concerned with sexism as I would have been if they were girls.  And here’s why:

I don’t want my sons thinking that females are by nature physically and emotionally weak.  I am a strong woman – there are some men that I’m sure I could take in a fight, but my husband is not one of them.  My husband is a strong man – but there are some women out there who could kick his butt.  I think my sons understand this, as evidenced by the youngest’s confusion when he heard of “girl push ups” and didn’t understand why they weren’t doing the same thing.  Yes, there is on average a pretty big sexual dimorphism in adult human strength – but first of all, that’s AVERAGE, and second of all, how much of that might be caused by different expectations starting in early childhood?

I also don’t want my sons thinking that females are allowed to hit them, but they can’t hit back.  I have told my sons over and over that they are not allowed to hit someone for disagreeing with them, insulting them, teasing them, arguing with them, stealing from them, or irritating them.  The only time they are allowed to hit someone is in self defense because the other person is hitting them.  At the same time, I know damned well that if my son hits a girl WHO HIT HIM FIRST, he will get in more trouble than her.  This is plain wrong.  This stupid double standard is perpetuated in media, where women slap men all the time for saying something rude and the audience laughs, but if a man hits a woman the audience gasps in horror.

You know what you are likely to get when you tell boys that girls are physically and emotionally weak, and then you let girls hit them and don’t let the boys defend themselves?  I think you will get young men who think women are weak and who RESENT women.  You are setting up the next generation for domestic abuse problems.  You are creating males who may just be waiting for a time when no one is watching so they can finally get their revenge on “the weaker sex”.  My sweet, sweet little boy who tries so hard to be fair and good has actually said to me that he sometimes wants to hit a girl “just to prove that I can”.  I totally understand that, because when I was young (hell, still today) if someone said that I could not do something because I was a girl I would *immediately* want to do it to prove them wrong.  It breaks my heart that girls are being allowed to act in such a way that my boy has said that.  He is not a misogynist.  He is not a bully.  They are being the bullies, and they seem to think it’s cute, and they seem to be getting away with it.

Maybe I should tell my son to settle playground bullying by challenging the bullies to a push up contest?

I am just not an intellectual.  I am not an academic.  I went to college because my parents told me that I would since as early as I could remember – it was assumed – but I never really felt an interest in it.  I managed to bash my way through to a BS degree in Psychology, but never used that degree other than the fact that I know of at least one job that I would not have landed had I not gone to college.  I worked for a university for nearly 25 years, but always as support staff – different animal care and administrative assistant positions.  Right now, I’m a birdkeeper for a biological lab that develops and produces vaccines.  I am truly happiest when manual labor is a large part of my job, when I’m using my body until it sweats and puts on muscle, when I’m outside in the weather for at least part of the day, and when I’m doing something that has a sense of necessity to it (the animals MUST be fed, watered, and cleaned up after or they will get sick).  Unfortunately, it seems in this world that the more you sweat at a job, the less that job pays – unless you’re a top professional athlete, that is.

One thing I find particularly interesting is that back in high school, I got straight As and people seemed to assume that I was really “smart” and was going to be very successful in college.  Instead, I spent years on and off academic probation, dropped out after four years (still officially a sophomore at that point because I’d failed so many classes), and then went back part-time and took one class a year until I managed to scrape together a degree.  Not what anyone considers a successful time in college.

Then there’s my “career”, which has not been so much a career as a series of jobs.  Birdkeeper, from age 21 to 26.  Administrative assistant the next couple of years.  Then back to animal care (all kinds of research animals) for a few years.  From there to Editorial Assistant for a nutrition journal – this for over a decade.  Another administrative assistant job followed.  And now my birdkeeper position.  So maybe it’s been two careers taking turns.  But not exactly upward mobility – if you take cost of living into account, I don’t think my salary has changed very much since my first job at 21.  I’ve been okay, but no one would call it a thriving career.

And I remember people pointing me out in high school as so successful.  What happened?

This isn’t a post about what “successful” means – that’s a huge issue, and obviously it means lots of different things to lots of different people.  For the purposes of this post, people obviously meant that they thought I would do well in college and have an upwardly mobile career.

When I think back to my childhood, and that classic question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the only answer that I remember giving was “I want to be a cowboy”.  People would say “You mean a cowgirl” and I’d say “No, I mean a cowboy” and I’d add in my head “What the hell is a cowgirl??”  And no, this post is also not about me being transgendered – I’ve always been fine with being female, but I still wanted to be a cowboy.  I wanted to ride horses, work outside, be active all day, sweat and be dirty and be tired at night, and have camaraderie with others who did the same.

I remember telling my dad once that maybe I could be a house painter like him.  It looked like satisfying work, making buildings pretty, and involved many of the things I liked – physical work, being outdoors, and seeing your work actually do something.  My dad’s response was “No daughter of mine is going to be a painter!”  I don’t think he was being sexist – I think he used “daughter” because that’s what I was to him.  I think he just wanted his kids to have something “better” than he did.

In high school, I came up with the idea of being a game warden.  But when I checked into the idea, I found that my nearly-blind right eye and nearsighted left eye put me out of the running for that career.

I volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center in high school, and I totally enjoyed that experience – but I guess I didn’t see that as going anywhere, and besides with my parents’ insistence that I go to college I didn’t really see how to pursue wildlife rehabilitation.  I was very shy and not good at networking – I would show up at the center and do whatever work needed doing, but I was lacking in the communication and inquiry skills that would have been needed to question people and research my options for turning those interests into a successful career.

I remember taking some sort of test in high school that was purported to measure your aptitudes and interests and suggest careers that might be appropriate for you…  the answer I remember getting was “electrician”.  In my mind, that was fixing toasters, and I just sort of went “Huh?”

So it was off to college, where I supposed I was to “find my passion”.  Instead I found that I hated going to class, studying, and taking tests.  I didn’t have much interest in a lot of the subject matter, and even subjects that I did find interesting I always felt like I was looking in from the outside somehow – like I wasn’t really “getting it”.  There was not a cowboy major, or a wildlife rehabilitation major – I took some Wildlife & Fisheries Biology courses, and some Animal Science, but that was chicken farming and computer modeling deer populations, and I was just so lost and confused and, well, just feeling like an outsider.  I didn’t connect with the other students – I made friends instead with people who had either graduated already or had not gone to college, who lived in or near the college town but were not part of the school at all.  I ended up spending more and more of my time working part-time jobs until I was spending far more time at work than on academic activities, and my school work pretty much fell apart.  I wandered from major to major, finally finishing up in Psychology because I just wanted to get a degree and be done, and looking at the courses required and what I had finished so far Psychology offered me the quickest route to my BS.

After I finally finished, I remember my dad asking me “So, are you a psychologist now?” and I said “Well, no, Dad.  I’m just someone with a Bachelor’s in Psychology.  I’d have to do a lot more schooling to actually be a psychologist.  I just have a job.”

Well, if college didn’t get me a specific career, at least it was supposed to get me out there getting life experiences, exploring different subjects, networking, and finding my path in the world, right?  It didn’t do much of that for me.  I suppose it did get me out in the world away from my parents, and for that I am grateful – I’m sure it was a better way for me to spread my wings than renting an apartment near my folks and just finding some job to pay the bills.  But why didn’t it help me find my passion?  With all the thousands of interesting people doing important things, with all the subjects to be investigated and all the possibilities for learning, why did I find it so uninspiring?  Couldn’t I have found SOMETHING that could have incorporated my natural interests and talents?  Am I really just a ditch-digger at heart?

I’ve decided that a lot of my confusion and disinterest in college was due to the education that I received prior to college.  My parents sent me to a private religious school from third grade through my junior year of high school.  My parents were not particularly religious, but they did not much like the public schools in our area and thought that I would get a more personal education in a private school.  Unfortunately, the school they sent me to was a pretty conservative Christian school – what they call a “Bible-based education”.

So I received a more “personal” education – smaller class size than the public school, teachers that took a personal interest.  But at what cost?  What did a “Bible-based education” actually mean?

It meant putting more stock in a book written by people who thought the Earth was flat and the sun moved around it than in the results obtained by modern scientists.

It meant learning to judge literature by how it reflected “Christian values”.

It meant that debate class focused on three issues:  abortion, homosexuality, and evolution.  And that the “debates” were rigged to make one side look like the only possible right answer – because The Bible.

It meant being rewarded for giving the “right” answer (according to the school’s ideology), not for thinking.

It meant actively shutting out questions that brought up contradictory viewpoints.

Shutting down free thought.

Stifling intellectual curiosity.

Brainwashing.

Spewing back the party line.

It meant that my straight As did not mean I was learning, but that I was a good little robot.

Enter college and the expectation that students can come up with ideas, put different ideas together in interesting ways, devise experiments, draw conclusions, ask good questions, self direct, and have basic intellectual curiosity.  I failed miserably.  I had not developed those traits at all.  I don’t think I even understood what people around me were doing.

But I loved to go to work.  I had developed the traits to be a good employee – follow instructions, work hard, be punctual, take pleasure in a job well done, get along okay with others, be honest, don’t be afraid to sweat.

Don’t get me wrong – all those traits are great, and I’m very glad I have them.  I like my job.  I’m proud of myself.  But sometimes I do wonder what I would have done if I had grown up learning the mental and psychological skills to really get the most out of a higher education.  If I had the mental/intellectual drive to match my work ethic, what could I have accomplished?

I want my kids to have both – to learn to work hard physically and be a great employee, and also to be fascinated with all the knowledge available in the world and be able to bring that knowledge together in novel and interesting ways.  To be able to think for themselves, be open to new ideas, be critical of what they read and hear, be critical of their own thoughts but never afraid to think them.  I hope that they have great intellectual curiosity which will lead them to seek and find a passion – hopefully one that will pay the bills, too.

Stop comparing yourself to the weak, the mean, the selfish, the needy, the drama queens.  Don’t be jealous of them because people give them attention, assistance, forgiveness, comfort, and emotional crutches.  When someone expects something good of you, don’t ever look around and say “but HE doesn’t have to do that!”, pointing at someone who you see as getting away with what you wish you could get away with.

It starts early in life, this response of:

  • “How come I have to do this?  He’s not doing it!”
  • “But Mom, she doesn’t have to eat her vegetables!”
  • “I picked up more toys than he did – it’s not FAIR!”

And so often it continues into adulthood, becoming:

  • “She is always late to work, so there’s no reason I should be on time.”
  • “Some people cheat on their spouses all the time, so why should I be expected to be perfect?”
  • “But you help him, so why do you expect me to be able to do it myself?”

Yes, there are some people who need help with basic things.  Yes, a lot of people are jerks to their partners.  Yes, a lot of people are pretty poor employees.  What does that have to do with you?  Why does it make you want to be less than your best?  Do you actually WANT to be treated as though you are weak and incapable?  Is the release of responsibility worth the decrease in self-respect?

Look up. Strive to be like the strong, the kind, the humble, the giving, the independent, the calmly confident.

It might take some looking to find these people.  They are probably just quietly getting things done, not flailing about, not complaining about how hard everything is, not voicing their drama in public, not demanding attention.

They are not the squeaky wheels.  They are the strong frame of the cart.  They are the grease that keeps everything turning.  They are the people clearing the large stones from the road ahead.  And they may be too busy to talk about it a lot – so you’ll probably have to look outside of Facebook.

Don’t compare yourself downhill.  Compare yourself uphill, if that”s where you want to get.  And I’m not talking “downhill” and “uphill” in terms of society’s view of “success” – money and power.  There are plenty of people with money and power who are not worth emulating – who actually are allowed to be weak and selfish and mean because of their money.  I am using “uphill” and “downhill”  as metaphors for a measure of self-respect, competence, independence, happiness, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

So next time someone says or implies that he or she expects more of you, instead of looking around and finding someone to make you look better, look around for someone to serve as an example of how to be better.

Actually, look for those good examples all the time, and emulate them.  You don’t have to wait until the next time someone is disappointed in you.

Recently a friend posted something on facebook about how people are missing their children’s childhoods because they are spending so much time on their smart phones.

The very next day, over dinner, two friends mentioned how time seems to be going so much faster now.  They chalked it up to getting older, and I’m sure that is some of it (waiting two days for something when you are a kid seems like FOREVER – I remember that).  But I think there is more to it than that.  I think that, with our now ubiquitous Internet, we fill in all the previously slow times with games and apps and texts.

I do not have a smart phone.  I do have a cell phone, but it rarely rings and is often in my other pants.  However, I do spend quite a bit of time on the Internet in various ways (at work, but also in a lot of my spare time).  And I have been aware for many years now of how time can fly by when I am on the computer.  A simple “I’ll check my email, it’ll just take a minute” can easily turn into an hour.  And it’s not just playing – at work, if I get involved in a computer project late in the day, I can actually forget to leave at my normal quitting time because I get caught up and don’t realize how much time has gone by.

The thing is, I don’t want my time to fly by anymore.  I am officially middle-aged, and I would like the next 40 or 45 years to go slowly, as I am not sure what is going to happen to me after that.  Even if there is some other world after this one, I want to see this one as much as possible before I go.

It’s not about “missing my son’s childhood” so much as about missing my own life.

It’s like why I don’t smoke pot.  I did a few times.  It was a little interesting, I guess.  I basically sat around and thought what I thought were very important thoughts…  and then it was many hours later.  The way time went by without me noticing was actually very similar to how time goes by when I’m, say, playing Candy Crush.

Yes, I just compared marijuana and Candy Crush.  I think they are amazingly similar experiences.  You sit there for hours “thinking” and feeling like you’re accomplishing something, and when you snap out of it later you know that you really just wasted that time, that all the amazing things you figured out really don’t mean anything at all now that you’re back in the real world.  I don’t think pot is any more dangerous or destructive than Candy Crush.  Actually, Candy Crush is more addictive, and since it’s free and legal it is easy to waste far more time with it than with pot.  Since my only real beef with pot is that it’s a waste of time, I now realize that I honestly believe that Candy Crush is more detrimental to quality of life than pot is.

Wow, I just blew my own mind.  Next time someone argues with me about whether pot should be legalized, instead of my usual argument that it is no more dangerous than legal alcoholic beverages, I’m going to argue that it’s no worse than Candy Crush.

Anyway, back to my point.

I want to maximize my time and my experiences on this planet of ours.  I want to be “here”, wherever “here” is at the time, as much as I can.  I always feel a little sad when I’m waiting in line at a store, or sitting on a park bench, or eating in the office break room, and most of the people around me are fiddling with their smart phones the whole time.  I feel like the world is getting more and more lonely as everyone around me is online in public.  I can be in a room with ten people, and most of them are not really here at all.

I think about when I was young, before all this Internet stuff.  I had a certain amount of escapism available:  television, books, music (I loved my Sony Walkman), and good old daydreaming.  I still engage in those, of course.  Of those things, none but television takes time away from me in anywhere near the same way that the Internet does.  When I read a book, I am still “here”, enjoying my present – often I’m reading in the bathtub or snuggled in bed, and the bath or bed is as much a part of the reading experience as the book is.  When I listen to music, it is as a soundtrack while I cook, clean the house, drive the car, or exercise.  I guess I’m not as good at daydreaming as I used to be, because I don’t seem to spend as much time at that – maybe I will as I cut back on my Internet time.

There is something else that I used to do as a time waster when I was young – playing solitaire.  Back when I did it with a deck of cards, on the table or the floor or even on my bed.  After years of computer solitaire, I recently played a few rounds with a physical deck and I was amazed by the difference.  When I sat at that table and played solitaire with the deck of cards, I was at that table the whole time.  I had to shuffle the cards and re-deal them after each failed round.  The cards got crooked and I had to straighten them.  A cat reached up to bat the cards, and I had to move her away.  It took longer to make each move, and losing a game meant I had to shuffle and re-deal again.  I was aware of the time passing, aware of my surroundings.  It actually felt bizarre.  Compared to computer solitaire, it seemed like manual labor.  I realized that the computer had removed the physical world completely from the game of solitaire.  And I realized that I was disturbed by that.

So here is my plan:  I’m going cold turkey from computer games.  I will still check with my friends on facebook, but no more Candy Crush and no more jayisgames.com (oh, how I will miss you, jayisgames).  I will still play Wii Sports and Just Dance, because those are exercise and I do not feel like I am escaping the world when I do those things – the moving around and the increased heart rate keep me “here”.

I am curious to see how my life will change over the next few weeks.  I assume that I will go for more walks, read more, and play more card games with my son.  Or maybe I’m giving myself too much credit and I’ll just nap more.

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So, about a month ago I started driving my new electric smart car.  His name is Bob.  Bob is totally awesome.  And totally adorable.

People notice Bob.  People are very curious.  I like that they ask me questions, want to sit in him, want to get driven around the block.  I want to let everyone see how great Bob is, and I like to talk about him.

But I have noticed that many of the questions people ask have a definite undertone of judgement and skepticism that surprised me a little.

Many people comment on his diminutive size and ask “But how useful is he, really, when you can’t take your whole family anywhere in him?”  My answer is that if you pay attention, you will probably notice that most people spend 80-90 percent of their driving time either alone or with one other person in the car.  I drive to work.  I pick up my son at The YMCA.  I go to the grocery store or the gym, alone or with my son.  Those things make up over 90 percent of my total car time.  When three or more of us want to go somewhere, we have our gasoline-powered Subaru to take us.  I have used the Subaru once this month.

The next thing people ask is “How far can you go on a charge?”  I can go up to 80 miles on an overnight charge.  This does not seem like enough to most people – even though most people who ask me live within ten miles of where they work.  Seriously, ten miles.  They could drive to work and back four times in a day if they had to, but they think that’s not enough.  I go to work (20 miles from home), to pick up my son, to the store, to the gym, for some other errands on the weekend – and the lowest Bob’s battery has gotten so far is 18 percent of full charge.  If we want to take a road trip on the weekend, we can take the gasoline-powered Subaru.

One of the most ridiculous questions I get from people is “Aren’t you afraid of what will happen if a semi truck hits you?”  Really, people?  A semi truck?  You think you’re not going to be dead if a semi hits your SUV?  Seriously, the issue of safety is an important one.  And it is completely true that if an SUV hits Bob, I’m likely to get more hurt than you would get if an SUV hit your SUV.  But that’s not what people say – they always bring up the semi trucks.  I liked my husband’s response, when he said “Yeah, it doesn’t handle meteor strikes well, either.”

But by far the greatest majority of the questions have to do with money.  Everyone wants to know how much he cost, how much he costs us in electricity, and how does that compare to how much I was spending on gas.  And when I explain that we pay a monthly lease fee which is just a bit more than I was spending on gas per month and then about 45-50 cents per day on the electricity, people go “ppht!” and dismiss this as a ridiculous waste of money.

A WASTE OF MONEY.

Sigh.

People spend more on one weekend of skiing with their family than I spend on Bob for the whole month.

People buy a single item of jewelry that costs more than I spend on Bob for six months.

People buy dinners that cost what I spend on Bob for two weeks.

And most people make monthly car payments that are far more than I spend on Bob for a month.

But people don’t seem to consider those things A WASTE OF MONEY.

For some reason, people expect an electric vehicle to be completely free of charge (no pun intended) or it’s not worth it.

Since when is money the only thing to consider when making a decision in your life?  If that were the case, we would not have children, or pets, or take vacations, or eat desserts, or have cable television, or volunteer our time, or do most of the things that we enjoy doing.

Many of the people who want the details of how cost-effective Bob is are the same people who ask me how cost-effective my vegetable garden is, without ever stopping to consider how cost-effective their own LAWN is not.

I spend my money on things I think are important, and that I enjoy.  Good, healthy food.  Books.  Quality clothes that will last for a long time.  Practical shoes.  Vegetable seeds and seedlings.  Fruit trees.  Improvements to our home.  Solar panels.  And a vehicle that I love to drive, that does not pollute the air, and that makes a statement about what I think is important.

I am willing to spend some money to support a technology that I believe is important to the future quality of life on our planet.  I am hopeful that electric vehicle technology will continue to improve, in combination with an increase in the adoption of solar power, and it will not be long before four-seater electric vehicles with 100+ mile ranges will be common and affordable.

Bob is awesome.  I believe that he and all his electric relatives are going to slowly and steadily change our world.  Slowly, because they have a lot of work to do to change people’s attitudes first.

For about 25 years, since I first saw a big green bus at a Whole Earth Festival in Davis as an undergrad, I have been curious about the Green Tortoise Adventure Travel bus trips.  When I was young, I was too shy to sign up for a trip on a bus with 25-30 people I didn’t know.  As I got older, I got in the habit of not taking vacations, since I usually had jobs that made it hard to get away.

Last year, when my son was turning 5 and could not stop talking about wanting to go see the desert, I finally decided to take the plunge.  I booked us a seven day trip to start the weekend after Alex graduated from Kindergarten.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Our trip was called The Western Trail.  It started from San Francisco (where we spent the night before in the Green Tortoise Hostel – a wonderful place to stay if you are in San Francisco on a budget).  It took us down the coast – Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Simeon, LA – then across the desert to Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, and Zion before closing the loop back at San Francisco.

Most of the time when I have taken vacation, I am very glad to get home again.  This time, I wanted to just keep going.  I didn’t even care where – just any Green Tortoise bus going anywhere.

The places we went were wonderful (well, except for our brief stop in Hollywood and our night in Las Vegas – two places I could do without ever seeing again).  Playing on the beaches, watching the elephant seals, climbing rocks and hiking in Joshua Tree, swimming in the Colorado River, and exploring Zion were all great times.  But the old saying of “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” has never been made so real to me.

I’m not going to say that traveling on a Green Tortoise bus is for everyone.  It means very close quarters, little privacy, room for only a few personal belongings, helping out with meal preparation and clean-up (but they are damned good meals), early mornings (but with ample napping opportunities later), and the hassle of finding your shoes in the pile every time you leave the bus.  If you want meals magically appearing on a set table and fresh sheets every night, are creeped out by the thought of touching strangers, don’t like vegetables, are uncomfortable with using pit toilets, need a shower every morning, or are easily offended by, well, anything – this would not be a vacation for you.

So there are my warnings.  Now for what made it so wonderful for myself and my son.

First, the simplicity of the mode of travel.  For me, true relaxation means not having to drive myself, not having to worry about a schedule, not really even having to know exactly where I am.  Just lounging on the swaying bus, listening to the wonderfully varied music coming through the adjustable speakers, watching the beautiful scenery gliding by, napping off and on, not knowing or caring exactly where we were or where/when we would be next – all of that allowed me to be truly “in the moment” much of the day, just appreciating the Zen of it all, trusting that our driver had everything under control and wherever the bus stopped next would be good.

The communal spirit that quickly developed was a blessing.  All through the day and night, there were acts of good will up and down the bus and around the campfire.  Bags of chips, fresh strawberries and blueberries, jerky, dried fruit, or candy were passed around the bus on a regular basis, and of course the alcohol flowed in the evenings.  The way the bus and the supplies were organized, set up of the outdoor kitchen, preparation of food, and cleanup after meals was amazingly quick, efficient, and even fun.  Packing up camp in the morning and changing the bus from sleeping mode to day arrangement was accomplished with surprisingly little hassle.  I have always enjoyed working on projects with people more than just sitting around making small talk, so having work to do together made me feel right at home and helped me bond with people.  I was very impressed by how respectful everyone was at night after the early birds went to bed – when people were partying around the campfire and I went to sleep in the bus, it was quieter and more peaceful in that bus than it ever is at my home, and when the late people came into the bus to find themselves places to sleep, they were quick and quiet about it and I barely woke up.

The pace of life on the Green Tortoise suited me perfectly.  I had been concerned about long hours in transit, but in reality we were rarely on the bus for more than a two hour stretch during the day time.  We would meander along for an hour or two, then stop for a break – either at a lovely beach, in a town where we could use the restrooms and purchase snacks, at a roadside stop with a good view for photographic opportunities, or occasionally just at a truck stop.  I never felt cooped up on the bus.  In transit, I could move about the bus as often as I liked as well – lounging on the big communal bed in the back, sitting at the tables in the middle or on the couch-like seats near the front, standing up to stretch my legs, or climbing into the upper bunks for a nap.  A completely different experience than sitting in a seat with a seatbelt for hours at a time.

I found the bus and the people on it to be a wonderful environment for my outgoing five-year-old son Alex.  He instantly fell in love with our driver, Sully, and his wife, Gwendoline.  I could nap confident that he was safe and having fun.  He spent a lot of the travel time sitting on a tool box that he pulled up next to Sully’s driver seat, chatting and telling jokes and amusing himself and those around him.  At other times, he rotated from group to group around the bus, sharing fruit and jerky, posing for photos, showing off little treasures he found on our stops (like the Bubba Gump rainbow glasses he found along the bike path in Monterey), and giving high-fives.  At meals, there was usually some way that he could help with food prep (cutting strawberries or melons for fruit salad, snapping green beans, or stirring something), and he took to dish washing very well.  At stops, he and I usually went off on our own because the interests of the rest of the travelers generally involved longer hikes, more alcohol, and different interests than he had.

Which leads me to one of the really excellent aspects of the trip – the great opportunity for flexibility.  Yes, we had to be up at a certain time, ready to go at a certain time, and at each stop we were told what time we had to be back on the bus and ready to leave again.  But other than that we could go in any direction we wanted.  Want to just sit on the bus and read?  Hike as far and as high as you can?  Hit a local pub?  Go swimming?  Shopping?  Sleep?  Totally up to you.  Our hosts had a lot of knowledge of the areas to give ideas and answer questions, then turned us loose and went their own ways too.  On the bus as well, people who wanted to could just sit in a corner with headphones on, staring out the window.  Others would climb up in a bunk and sleep or read.  Others would play cards, drink beer, chat and laugh together.  As pretty much an introvert, I felt totally comfortable just chilling out and watching the scenery and listening to the music, while my son the social one partied it up.

I had a few concerns before the trip…  thought it might be hard to sleep at night with other people partying, thought I would lose most of my stuff, thought people would find my son annoying, thought I would get car sick, thought I would feel socially awkward among so many strangers, thought people would try to draw me into being more social than it is my nature to be.  Not a single one of my worries came to be true.  By the end of the first day, when I was going to sleep peacefully to the occasional distant sound of laughter, I stopped having any worries at all.

I must dedicate one paragraph solely to the amazing Green Tortoise staff on our trip.  Sully our driver, Gwendoline his wife, and Kevin the, hmm, what am I supposed to call him? – the non-driving host dude, were all wonderful.  Warm and friendly, easy going, knowledgeable, organized, funny, and damned cute – I rarely feel so comfortable around people so quickly.  Their attitude and gentle leadership skills created an atmosphere of warmth, companionship, and cooperation that permeated the bus.  If my husband and I ever fulfill one of our dreams, having a large piece of land with multiple housing units and a semi-cooperative community lifestyle, these are exactly the kind of people I would hope to attract to live there.  It was a bit sad having to say goodbye – no offense to my husband, whom I am very glad to be with again.

So here we are eight days after starting our adventure.  Alex has a new career goal – Green Tortoise bus driver (also to grow his hair long and only wear a shirt when it is required).  I have a new “if I won the lottery” dream (foolish since I never play the lottery) – I would travel the country on Green Tortoise buses from the day Alex gets out of school at the beginning of the summer until he has to return to school in fall.  In reality, I will start saving my money right now for another trip at the beginning of next summer.  If we go somewhere cooler, my husband may want to join us, and if we are really lucky his older son will come as well.

In short, I am hooked.

My photo album of the trip is at:

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